STATEWIDE — A federal judge's ruling on Friday temporarily blocked a Florida law giving felons who have completed their sentences their voting rights back only after they've fully paid their fines, fees, and restitution.
- Federal judge grants preliminary injunction on Amendment 4
- Ruling temporarily opens door to more felons getting voting rights back
- READ IT: ▼ Full 55-page motion to dismiss (PDF) ▼
The 55-page ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in the Northern District of Florida denies a motion to dismiss by Secretary of State Laurel Lee and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and grants a preliminary injunction filed by a coalition of voting advocacy groups representing 17 people affected by the new law.
It's at least a temporary victory for those groups, which have pushed to get the voting rights restored for Florida's more than 1 million felons who have completed their sentences.
At issue are provisions tacked on to Amendment 4, which was passed by Florida voters in November 2018 and restores felons' voting rights, by the Florida Legislature and signed into law by DeSantis. The provisions, described in SB 7066, say felons must pay all "restitution, fines, and fees" before getting back their right to vote.
The plaintiffs include the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, the Orange County Branch of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters of Florida, who are representing individuals who say that are unable to pay their financial obligations.
The groups say conditioning the restoration of a felon’s right to vote on the payment of all financial obligations violates the Constitution.
The preliminary injunction says the state can't deny a person the right to vote solely because they lack the means to pay their financial obligations that Amendment 4 and SB 7066 require them to.
"The Secretary of State must not take any action that both (a) prevents an individual plaintiff from voting and (b) is based only on failure to pay a financial obligation that the plaintiff shows the plaintiff is genuinely unable to pay."
Pastor Clifton Tyson was one of the 1.4 million felons who got their voting rights back because of Amendment 4. When Tampa voters elected a new mayor, Tyson was happy to be a part of the process — it was his first time voting in 42 years.
"When they gave me the ballot and told me to walk over to one of the booths, I stopped and began to cry," Tyson said.
But he feared those rights would be taken away after the Florida Legislature passed a law requiring felons to pay restitution and court fees in order to be eligible to vote again.
"The problem is, no one knows who owes what, nobody," he said.
"I wholeheartedly support the federal judge’s decision to place a temporary injunction on efforts to block the full implementation of Amendment 4. Floridians overwhelmingly supported Amendment 4 on the 2018 ballot — this state believes in second chances, and we should make voting easier and more accessible, not legislate politically motivated restrictions that go against what Florida voters want," Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani said in a statement.
"While the decision only applies to the plaintiffs, the writing is on the wall for the Florida Legislature to correct the administrative chaos it created in passing SB 7066. This was an important first step in the case, and we look forward to ultimately proving in court that SB 7066 is a modern-day poll tax," Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said.
Tyson called Friday's ruling a victory.
"I'm thankful to Judge Hinkle that he was thorough, that he listened. He just didn't look at numbers on paper. He listened," Tyson said.
"It means I can get my grandson up like I took him to the first election. I might take all my grandchildren with me now so they can see Papa vote."
The case will later go to the Florida Supreme Court.